New growth and new beginnings are the quintessential nature of spring. In this article we will take a look at how we can utilise the tools and wisdom of the yoga tradition to create new habits [Sadhana], set new intentions [Sankalpa], and allow stillness for new possibilities to arise [Śavasana]. The tradition of yoga is grounded in the concept of union, the name stemming from the word ‘yoke’. Yoga is the art of yoking or uniting the individual self with the universal intelligence (or whatever you wish to call it – God, the Goddess, Spirit, Higher Self, Innermost, etc.) It is the process of liberation from the suffering of the mind, the individual self, the ‘I’, or as some call it – the ego. It is to align your personal will to the will of the universe, which is to live in acceptance and contentment with what is simply because it hurts not to.
It is interesting to note that the origin of the word ‘religion’ means the same thing, it stems from the Latin word ‘religare’, which means to unite. The more we delve into the origins of yoga and the origins of all major religions, we come to realise that in their essence they are all pointing to the same thing. There are simply many paths to get there. This concept is well known of and written about, such as in Aldous Huxley’s ‘Perennial Philosophy’. That is not to say that yoga is a religion, it is to say that the origin of religion are the participation, observation and experience of a mystical experience. This mystical experience is commonly and simply called union; yoga; religare. It is the union of the individual self with the universal intelligence. The term mystical implies something mysterious and yet we have an infinite resource to experience it for ourselves, through our bodies. Yoga is a the divine science that leads us to our own source of inspiration.
What I know of the divine sciences and the Holy Scriptures I learnt in the woods and fields.
~ Aldous Huxley
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are the foundation of a truly holistic yoga practice. There are eight core principles that guide us on the exploration of reality, touching every area of life from physical to mental, gross to subtle, individual to social. They are are follows:
YAMA ~ Ethics
NIYAMA ~ Self discipline
ASANA ~ Physical postures
PRANAYAMA ~ Breathing techniques
PRATYAHARA ~ Withdrawal from the senses
DHARANA ~ Concentration
DHYANA ~ Meditation
SAMADHI ~ Unison
For the purpose of this article we will focus on asana, the physical practice. However, you should know that all of the eight limbs intercept each other, it is as if they exist together as different faces of an octahedron, rather than as separate rungs of a ladder ascending from one to another. You can pick one facet to practice and the rest will follow without your doing. I recommend that you explore the other facets and enjoy the process as if you are adding new ingredients to a familiar recipe; you are adding new perspectives to your repertoire of self knowledge and self care. Be curious, self inquiry can be playful and fun.
You don’t have nothing to lose, babe, you’re dead already. Be a fool. There’s nothing more fun than self-realisation.
~ Byron Katie
Self inquiry is the step by step process of self-realisation and therefore freedom from the suffering of the mind. One of the first steps is to realise that suffering exists in the mind and not in reality or out in the world. Reality is simply what is and we attach meaning to it. We all experience our suffering in our mind, nowhere else. Our mind convinces us that what makes us suffer is real and that we do not have a choice. And yet, we absolutely do. Yoga is the step by step process of liberation from our identification with the ‘I’ mind and therefore our experience of suffering. Sadhana is a seed for new possibilities that we will explore here. It is yogic tool to release our attention from the hypnotic pull of the mind and drop into the awareness that lies underneath. This awareness is equanimous in nature; unattached to outcomes; trusting the unfolding of life from moment to moment. Everything perceived through new eyes.
If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
~ William Blake
Yoga is an internally directed exploration that unites us with our infinite innermost reality, the awareness that exists beyond our thinking mind. It is also self-directed, only you can focus your awareness and allow yourself to open up to new experiences. Only you can seek further depths as you sense that there is more to be explored. It is not required that you believe in anything, all that is required is that you show up, do the work and allow yourself the experience. Experiential knowledge is what cultivates a sense of trust in the unknown workings of the world, the areas that we try to control the most. Trust is what allows us to experience liberation from our conditioning, surrendering to our circumstances and seeing from a new perspective.
Cognitive learning will only give you the tools and show you to the door, but you have to use those tools in order to open the door, walk through it and experience a new reality for yourself.
Reading about other peoples experiences of yoga is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that we use the tools that have been passed down throughout history in order to have our own experience. Sadhana is your own personal dedicated yoga practice. It is a practice that you are disciplined enough to stick with every day. Whether you feel like it or not, you are able to draw yourself to your mat and begin. It does not need to be long, it only needs to be sustainable for you. Start really small, 10 minutes practised every day is more powerful than an hour practised here or there. It is about creating small and regular intervals where you can stop and simply tune in. Carving out space and time where you can drop into that space will happen naturally over time, the more consistently you do it. Just as our bodies hold memories, so too do spaces and environments. Our bodies pick up on impressions and register the energy of spaces. So when you do your daily practice in the same place at the same time your energy and intention will remain in that space, making it easier for you to ‘drop out and tune in’ each time you go there.
No traveller with intuitive faculties open will deny the fact that in the lands of ancient traditions he will have seen numberless places which, so to speak, sing aloud the legend of their past. [Impressions]
~ Hazrat Inayat Khan
Your own sadhana is a way to arise and align; a way to start or end your day both grounded and uplifted; an anchor for you to experience your daily peace of mind. It is also a way to create some space in your mind, to wipe the slate clean and start again. It is commonly known that yoga allows us to open up and create space so that a fresh perspective can filter in. We tend to fill every moment in time with the same old thought patterns, yoga is a way of removing the daily debris revealing the lightness and clarity underneath. When we practise this daily cleansing we give ourselves the opportunity to experience a reality beyond recurring daily habits. We allow ourselves to access the wisdom that has been there all along just waiting for the space to reveal itself. We give ourselves the opportunity to have those ‘aha’ moments where our life situations start to make sense.
It is valid to say that going sane feels just like going crazy.
~ Julia Cameron
The act of dedicating yourself to your sadhana practice is enough to shift your state of mind from the mundane to sacred. Lifting yourself out of conditioned patterns of thinking that are informed by the past to anticipate our future. And dropping yourself into the present moment, perceiving the freshness and inspiration of the eternal state of now. It can sometimes feel like such a profound shift that you may feel a little crazy, in a glorious childlike way. It is not just an experience for on the yoga mat, we can embody this way of being and take it out into the world around us. When we devote ourselves to our own wellbeing we cultivate a sense of peace and a spontaneous sense of awe that inevitably extends outward. We begin to see our families and friends, our colleagues and neighbours, as if for the first time. Even perfect strangers are graced with our smile and soon we realise that the world reflects back to us our new perspective, our innate joy of being alive.
The true method of knowledge is experiment.
~ William Blake
Choose one Yama and one Niyama (below) and practice these principles in your daily life for three weeks. Make notes around your house to remind you of them and keep them in your awareness from moment to moment. Reflect on how living by these principles may have influenced the way you thought or behaved over that time.
YAMA is the way we conduct ourselves in society and our attitude towards our environment. These ethical principles include:
Ahimsa / non-violence
Satya / honesty
Asteya / non-covetousness
Brahmacharya / self-restraint and containment of energy
Aparigraha / non-attachment to material things
NIYAMA is they way we think and feel, our attitude toward ourselves. These individual disciplines include:
Saucha / health and hygiene of the body
Santosha / contentment
Tapas / self-discipline and moderation
Svadhyaya / study and self-inquiry
Isvara pranydhana / surrender and devotion
CREATE your own SADHANA, your own personal daily yoga practice. Make it so that it is sustainable for your lifestyle, so that you can reap the rewards of what you sow. Motivate yourself with the idea that you are cultivating and devoting yourself to your highest aspirations for a more peaceful you and a more beautiful world. The following is an example of a 10 minute sadhana:
Find a comfortable seat and tune into your breath. Place your left hand over your heart and your right hand over your belly. Feel the rise and fall of your belly for a few moments as you deepen your breath. This diaphragmatic breathing is known as the foundational yogic breath. If you have a favourite pranayama practice you can do this for a minute or two. You may wish to invite an intention into your practice, known in yoga as sankalpa, a heartfelt intention. It may be that you are inviting in strength, flexibility, openness, peace, or clarity. The possibilities are endless and the choice is yours.
Practise the Sun Salutation sequence for three rounds (the completion of the right side and left side is one round). It doesn’t need to be a full workout series, remember it must be a sustainable practice that you can do every single day. If you have extra time to do more, that is a bonus. Add extra postures spontaneously, tuning in to what you need in the moment, from moment to moment. However, if you do not have that luxury everyday then at least you have the peace of mind knowing that you have dedicated yourself to your minimum daily sadhana.
Be still, allowing your innate intelligence to integrate your body and mind. In stillness, known in yoga as śavasana, we fully absorb the benefits of our practice before moving out into the world feeling integrated and whole. With your palms together at your heart recite a simple prayer of gratitude. It could be as simple as “Good morning/evening universe, today I am grateful for…” You might want to chant your favourite mantra, or you might simply bless the people in your life that you love. Bow your head to your heart in reverence for your life, take a deep breath and then go about your day/night.